Sunday, December 16, 2012

50 Shades of Blue on Captiva Island

Say yes to this wedding arrangement, if you are crazy enough to tie the knot!
Who wouldn't want to get married or fall in love here?

The words "50 Shades of Blue" were emblazoned across the quaint trolley. “Does this have anything to do with the racy trilogy 50 Shades of Grey?” I asked. “No,” replied the media contact at South Seas Island Resort.

It’s a pity that the phrase "50 shades of something" -- insert your own fetish or preferred word here -- is associated with an erotic novel and a hilarious Lady Chatterly style parody with Selena Gomez. In fact, I shouldn’t even introduce this article with the phrase, but you know it would raise eyebrows, if not something else.

Because at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island on Florida's gulf coast, the phrase “50 Shades of Blue” is appropriate and not smutty at all, but lovely, tasteful, utterly elegant and very romantic, truly inspiring tranquility -- although, according to legend -- the island got its name most likely from semi-fictional pirate José Gaspar who is said to have dominated and kept female prisoners on the sandy strands for ransom.

50 shades of blue captiva south seas island resort
I wasn't kidding.

But let's forget about pirates, domination and submission and get back to the simple color blue.

Blue is everywhere. There’s the sky and the water, as well as the interior and exterior décor that celebrates blue, my favorite color -- think azure, cyan, turquoise -- every hue imaginable. Here, you'll be literally surrounded by many shades of blue and soothing, complimentary colors. Add to this canvas radiant tropical flowers, green lawns and outrageous sunsets of beaming oranges and reds, and the palette completes the experience -- shades of an Impressionist painting provided by Mother Nature and savvy designers.  If Paul Gauguin had been here during the reign of Calusa Indians, he may have been inspired.

South Seas sits on the tip of Captiva Island facing Redfish Pass and North Captiva: to the east, Pine Island Sound and to the west, the Gulf of Mexico.  The energy and power of water here is evident, as the tides dance their tango back and forth in between the sound and the gulf, with ripping, strong currents and eddies of shallow, calm waters.

South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Oleanders blooming on the lawn by the salty gulf.

South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
This heron never got spooked. It walked "with" me for about half an hour.

This is nature. Nature surrounded by luxury without abusing nature, calming to inner nature. Poet Derek Walcott once wrote "islands can only live if we have loved in them," and while he wasn't referring to Captiva, this particular island captures the sentiment.

Shelling at South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Low tide provides amazing shelling on Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

It’s here where you’ll also find a sense of remoteness that would make any couple enjoy a quiet, intimate getaway. At night, there’s no light pollution. You can actually gaze upon a canopy of stars and no boom-boom music disturbs the moment in the background; it’s just the two of you with a deliciously cozy bed steps away and breezes as soundtrack.

Hold hands during a gulf coast sunset. Sip on cocktails as you watch dozens of dolphins corral baitfish close to shore – an amazing sight to behold. Go for long walks on the endless beach -- no high-rise condos or loud noises will interfere with your visual feast or sense of peace. Go shelling along Redfish Pass at low tide in the morning. Take a sunset cruise on a catamaran with Captiva Cruises.  Get a couple’s massage at the Kay Casperson Spa at Chadwick's Square.

Shelling at South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Redfish Pass is particularly beautiful.

Sailing with Captiva Cruises at Seas Island Resort, Captiva
A sunset cruise is a must for a romantic afternoon.

These handmade soaps smell SO good!
You'll want to take a few of these home, trust me.

And no matter what you do, make sure you buy some hand-made soaps at Captiva Provision Company to lather up good in that generously sized en-suite tub during your stay. The soaps are aromatic and leave the skin soft and smooth. The Himalayan Salt soap should not be rubbed directly on the skin, which -- wink, wink -- means you’ll need a partner and a pair of gentle hands to help you with the sensual bathing experience. This is a grand souvenir; I’ve been enjoying it every day since my trip in mid-November.

You can also pick up a few provisions here, including fine wines, spirits, sandwiches and gourmet snacks. A mini-fridge is available in the room and you may also request a microwave.

Harbourside Grille - South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Blackened local red snapper with a tangy watermelon slaw.

For dining, go to Harbourside Grille and enjoy a romantic meal outdoors, which serves local fish in a sustainability program. Try the crab cake, fish spread and yes, I know fish is the focus here, but if you’re a meat lover, the filet mignon with broccolini, so tender in the mouth, made me say the “o” word out loud. Not that I’m shy about saying “orgasm,” but when I blurt it out, it’s because I really mean it!

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. South Seas is mainly a family-friendly resort, but for couples looking for an island escape, the best bet is to stay at the hotel at the Harbourside Marina section, walking distance from the beach, restaurants and amenities. Go in the fall, when kids are in school.

View of North Captiva from South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
South Seas also offers a sailing school, but who cares when you can smooch at this outlook?

There are many accommodations in Captiva, but bet you a dollar nothing beats a kiss on the north tip of the island. It’s just that damn beautiful.

If you’re looking for a South Beach experience, with obnoxious music, model types in thongs gorging on mojitos from a pitcher and dudes with gold chains hitting on babes, this isn’t the resort for you. Expect people with pasty skin and regular bodies here. Also expect civilized, respectful behavior.

South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Cabanas are available and include a mini-fridge, snacks and wi-fi.

For those who want a relaxed day poolside, rent a cabana. Appropriately attired pool boys serve cocktails and snacks. One of the pools has streaming fountains – perfect for a shoulder massage. But rug rats may be around. Just be forewarned.

And for parents with kids tagging along, there are plenty of activities to keep them busy while you have “me” and “us” time. A whole section of the resort is devoted to children’s activities, including an arcade as well as the eco-friendly Sanibel Sea School where wee ones, tweens and even grown-ups enjoy educational field trips in the resort, much of which is treated as a nature sanctuary.

In fact, while I was there, I tried to rescue an injured anhinga. Nearby, Sanibel also boasts one of southwest Florida's most impressive bird refuges, the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

South Seas also offers bike rentals, but they seemed rather wonky; the gears didn’t seem to work right. Take the trolley instead if you wish to roam about the resort, although you may be tempted to never leave the room or the beach area.  The resort fee includes chairs, towels and umbrellas, so the only thing you have to worry about is what cocktail to order. This is a no-cash resort, so the wallet doesn't come with.

Smile while you take the trolley, thinking about the phrase 50 shades of blue.

South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Oh dear, what to do today?

This tropical paradise is just about a three-hour drive from Miami if you time it right and offers a great Florida getaway at a pristine location. While featuring luxe comfort, the resort is all about less is more -- feel your heart beat, listen to the surf, gaze at the stars as you get away from the hectic busyness of life. Indulge in moments of intimacy.

50 shades of blue, indeed.

To learn more, visit South Seas Island Resort.

More photos on Flickr.

Disclosure: some parts of this experience were sponsored by the resort, others paid out of my own pocket, including some of the room nights, meals, all personal purchases and transportation.  All opinions my own. I'd have written the same review even if it was completely sponsored.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Blood of Others is Our Own

Arjuna with Krishna leading the chariot in the Bhagavad Gita or "Lord's Song"

Maybe the Mayans were right. The world did come to and end, at least for a handful of folks in Connecticut yesterday after a 20-year old man named Adam Lanza allegedly shot children, staff and his own mother at an elementary school.

The massacre made me think of Joseph Campbell's insight into our archetypal connections. And that train of thought led me to Simone de Beauvoir's WWII novel, The Blood of Others, where no one is truly innocent, in the sense that we all have a communal responsibility to take care of each other; we have that conflict between freedom and community obligation. To disregard an issue is a form of acceptance.

I'm not particularly religious, in fact, I'm raised Catholic and consider myself a Christian, if you will, although I rarely go to church. But I'm going to bring to light the Bhagavad Gita now, a spiritual text that I studied during my yoga teacher training. The poem raises the question of how to wrap our minds around things are just so absolutely evil, immoral and wrong; it addresses a conflict of conscience.

The archetypal meaning of the poem is that within each of us a battle rages between selfish impulses that ignore the claims of justice and mercy and a realization that ultimately we are all connected in a unity that embraces all humanity and the whole world. Arjuna is our conscious mind, which must make the choice of how we will live. The wicked cousins are our impulses to self-centeredness and greed. Krishna is the divine spark within us, our higher Self, which is always available to rein in the horses of our feelings and thoughts and to guide us in the battle of life, if we will only seek that help.*
"If we will only seek that help."

Too bad Adam Lanza didn't.

Too bad he ignored the "claims of justice and mercy."

Let love and compassion grow from the roots of yesterday's massacre at Sandy Hook. It's the only way to move forward. I'm feeling this as painfully as 9/11. We Americans have reached the lowest of the low. Who needs terrorist enemies from the Middle East when we have a senseless killing like this of innocent children and their loving care takers in our own back yard?

The enemy is within. The enemy is our neighbor, our brother.

As unfathomable as this is, remember that horrible things happen to humans every day that are degrading and disrespectful of dignity and life -- sexual slavery, hunger, child and spousal abuse, etc;

Let's just always keep that in mind and act with compassion in every breath we take. Dedicate a moment to an act of kindness, no matter how small, sometime in the next few days to make up for this.  Or maybe just close your eyes and think about the slain children.

No, you didn't pull the trigger, but we are all responsible for the world we live in. What's done is done and this is the least we can do.

The blood of others is also our own.

*(Quote source: Theosophical Society. I am in no way associated with it and I don't follow it, but it's a good Cliff Notes for this post.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Charmed in Hialeah

Part four of several stories about Hialeah.

Damaris Aguiar, Miss Hialeah 2010

I first met beautiful Damaris Aguiar at a red carpet event last year on Miami Beach. When I mentioned my involvement with Yo Soy Hialeah, her eyes lit up.

At the tender age of 26, Aguiar has not only earned the title of Miss Hialeah 2010 and begun a successful modeling career, she has already started giving back to the community by helping younger women get a head start in life as they learn self-confidence and poise.

A native from Cuba, Aguiar was raised in Hialeah and still calls the city home. She taught dance at a Hialeah Adult Center before moving on to open her own dance and modeling studio in a strip mall near the Hialeah race track.

Click here if the embedded video doesn't appear.

I’m not quite sure how Aguiar does it; she remains graceful and gorgeous while managing a studio with her co-owner partner and traveling for modeling gigs. Pilares Dance Studio offers dozens of classes and has hundreds of students who come as far as Pembroke Pines and distant Miami municipalities to study with Aguiar and other teachers.

My assistant for the day, Freddy Stebbins -- whom you may remember as the gut-busting comedian in front of the camera in my Bargain Shopping in Hialeah video -- helped me hold the boom mic while I tried to capture what was going on inside the studio. Both of us were so moved and impressed by Aguiar’s work in giving these young ladies the opportunity to feel good about themselves. “This shouldn't be just a three-minute vignette,” Stebbins said. “This should be an entire documentary on Hialeah culture.”

I’ll admit, I first thought it was going to be a rather fluffy topic about superficial beauty, but honestly, I left knowing that Aguiar is making an incredibly positive impact in the lives of young women.

She breaks the stereotype.

There’s more here than meets the eye beyond striking poses and sporting gowns. I see these little girls becoming doctors, lawyers and leaders some day -- women who will not only do good, but look damn good while doing it.

And I very much admire Aguiar for keeping her passion local while extending her own wings in the wider world of mainstream celebrity. This isn’t just a story about sitting pretty and flashing your pearly whites at a camera. The mothers I spoke to saw the value in teaching their daughters everything they need to get ahead in the world.

And yes, manners, table etiquette and grace are very important. What I saw wasn’t some Pride and Prejudice “oh act this way so you can find a husband” scenario; this was an “act this way so you can believe in yourself” training. A bit more than just charm school, right?

Wish I had had this when I was a little girl.

This is a story about having the balls to be entrepreneurial in your own back yard. It’s a true modern-day Cinderella story, minus the prince. It’s a story of potential realized and growing -- all from Hialeah.

You may find Pilares School of Dance and Modeling at 555 East 25th Street, Suite 224. But watch out, they’re expanding and looking for another location.

After the shoot, Stebbins and I shared a repast. We kept chiding each other on how poor our manners actually were. Scoop and pinch? American or European style? Well, maybe we should enroll in Ms. Aguiar’s class!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas, Hialeah Style

I don't know about you, but I am ready to puke and throw a chancleta every time I walk into any retail store these days, overcome with sickeningly sweet Christmas music. It's like a mind-numbing injection of treacle. Also, why don't stores play Jewish music during Chanukkah as well? You know, just to shake things up a bit, because at least it has more ritmo thank Jingle Bells without being as obnoxious as reggaeton.

Luckily, the talented gente from Hialeah Haikus bring us The Twelve Days of Christmas, Hialeah style.

Yes, they went there.

I think I would pass on the Willy Chirino CD, but I would definitely want Raul Martinez' Lexus and five roasted pigs.

Enjoy and happy holidays!

If you aren't familiar with Hialeah Haikus, they are a veritably talented group of wordsmiths who identify with La Cuidad Que Progresa. Check out their book, which would make a great stocking stuffer.  Oh wait, we Cubans don't do that shit. We don't even stuff turkeys. OK, whatever, just go read!

Hat tip to Bohemian Babushka.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fishing Adventures in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands

Fishing Reel and Tackle
Fishing porn.

Since backcountry is my favorite type of fishing, I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a full immersion weekend in the Everglades region of Florida’s gulf coast with Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing, which took place this past October. (As you may recall, I attended a similar seminar last year in Islamorada and fished with Captain Bob Jones.)

I set out before dawn, westward bound on Tamiami Trail.  Just after the sun rose and the mist lifted over the river of grass, I arrived at Port of the Islands, a resort that seems to be in the middle of nowhere, situated in between Marco Island and Everglades City, with water access to the 10,000 Islands via the 3.5 mile Faka Union Canal.

Pavillion Key, 10,000 Islands, Gulf of Mexico
A maze of islands makes up this area of the gulf.  Port of the Islands is just off Tamiami Trail. I fished out of Chokoloskee.

The 10,000 Islands are particularly special for me.

I know this place. Oh yeah.

Years ago, Sir Fish A Lot and I would trailer our Hewes Bonefisher out here. We called her the Cyan, because of the color of her hull. One day, on the way back from the pristine islands where, thankfully, there is no human civilization, our outboard engine failed mid-journey in the Faka Union Canal.

We went into survivor mode, long before there was even a TV show by that name. We were alone here -- no boat traffic, no cellphones.  And the radio? Battery had run out.

Every dog has his day and boy, this really just wasn’t our day.  Nothing seemed to be working.

Poor Sir Fish A Lot did his best. First, he tried to pole us back to port while standing on the flats boat platform, but the water was too deep and the tide was outgoing, current flowing against us -- a Herculean task, to say the least.

Then we lost the pole close to the banks of the channel. He jumped into the muddy oyster banks on the edge and waist-deep in the water, threw the anchor forward to drag the boat forward while I steered. 

Under the hazy colors of dusk, gators were floating nearby, mosquitoes were buzzing and biting, flies the size of quarters were crash-landing on our faces, but he remained stoic, steadily dragging the boat forward until – gasp! – we lost the anchor.

We drifted aimlessly along the current for what seemed like an eternity.

And then a miracle happened.

Another boat was also returning to port, with a biblical inscription about fishermen painted onto the hull. 

The kind gentlemen on board towed us back to safety. I'm not particularly religious,  but I'm pretty sure this is what Jesus would have done.

Once back at Port of the the Islands, Sir Fish A Lot and I fell utterly exhausted into bed, too tired to even consider supper.  A day of complete frustration, with no fish caught, but certainly much courage and pluck mustered.

We may have not stayed a couple forever, but I do count this as one day where I thought we could get through anything.

So, dear readers, imagine my connection to Port of the Islands when I arrived at the seminar!

The first day at Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing was chock full of learning through a no-stress, pleasant series of lectures and hands-on mini-workshops. About 40 women attended talks on backcountry fishing led by local guides, as well as sessions by representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, who discussed conservation policies. Our afternoon “skill stations” included de-hooking fish, venting fish, casting light tackle, net casting, boat handling, knot tying and even kayak fishing, among other techniques.

Ladies, Let's Go Fishing - Everglades Seminar
To the left, Barbara Evans, a licensed Captain, practicing ultralight rod casting techniques with Mary Fink of Island Girl Charters, to the right.

Kayak Fishing
Jean McElroy, the redhead on the left, is pro staff at Ocean Kayak in Palm Beach County and a master at kayak fishing. Pretty ballsy if you ask me!

Ladies, Let's Go Fishing - Everglades Seminar
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission representatives taught us much about conservation and proper handling of fish.

Ladies, Let's Go Fishing - Everglades Seminar
A participant learning how to tie a clinch knot from Captain Mark Worley. I tried it as well, but already forgot.  I need to keep fishing lines and knot books by the can -- the most recommended way of practicing.

Betty Bauman, founder of Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing, demonstrated the proper reeling technique for catching large game fish:  rod holder belt on, squat, straighten your back, let the fish run then reel in when it relaxes.

I raised my hand. “Betty, what happens when the fish feels like a Mac truck at the end of the line?” I asked. “I hooked a beast two weeks ago and couldn’t even wind the reel.”

“Just practice, Maria.” She replied.

And practice I would. I didn’t know what I was in for.

Ladies, Let's Go Fishing - Everglades Seminar
It's all about physics.  Even a petite, slim lady can catch a big fish.

The next day, I was up at 4 am to get ready for fishing with Betty, her husband, Captain Chuck – the inspiration behind the “no-yelling” school of fishing – and a photographer from a gulf coast newspaper. Other ladies went fishing as well, but with different guides, some even on kayaks.

The journey seemed long although we weren’t far from the marina in Chokoloskee. I was so eager to be on the water with rod in hand.

So was Captain Chuck. Just after sunrise, we finally blazed across the flats of the 10,000 Islands, remote waters he knows intimately.

I knew it was going to be a good day when after anchoring off Pavillion Key, Captain Chuck rigged a spinning rod with a gold spoon and -- bam! -- first cast resulted in a keeper redfish, which I hooked and landed.  Folks, for those of you who aren’t familiar with fishing in the backcountry, this rarely, if ever happens. First cast? No way.

Redfish Fishing - Everglades and 10,000 Islands
Not bad for the first catch of the day.

Pavilion Key, 10,000 Islands, Gulf of Mexico
Captain Chuck cast netting for pilchards around pristine Pavillion Key, which is close to the wide open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We also saw a few campers who had reached the remote area by canoe.

We spent much of the morning fishing and cast netting along the shore of the key for bait. In the meantime, I hooked what was probably a ray, which gave me a good fight. Captain Chuck didn’t let me land it because he said it would spook other fish.

When we finally had enough ladyfish in the live well, we headed to an area more densely populated with mangrove islands.

“Now let’s do some real fishing,” said Captain Chuck.

We cast for snook along the mangroves but didn’t have much luck.  “I wouldn’t have picked this day for this kind of fishing,” Captain Chuck explained. “Tides and conditions aren’t right.”

But wherever we anchored, Captain Chuck put out a conventional reel with a ladyfish on the hook for me, while we fished with spinning rods along the shores. Twice “my rod” squealed and twice a big one got away.

Rabbit Key - 10,000 Islands
One of the spots where we fished. Camping is an option at Rabbit Key, part of the Everglades National Park system.

By 3:30 PM, when we were obligated to return to port, Captain Chuck asked us to stop casting. As we were getting organized to speed across the flats, my rod screeched.

“Grab it, Maria! Grab it!” said Captain Chuck.

In that moment of haste, my heart started pounding. Fishing can be incredibly boring, followed by rushes of adrenaline.

“Could this be it?” I thought.

What I felt at the end of that line was similar to whatever I had hooked in Cape Sable. A mammoth that could speed like it was racing at the Indianapolis 500 yet also become a dead weight, a concrete boulder.

It never jumped.

“It’s not a tarpon,” said Captain Chuck. “Keep reeling.”

There was no rod belt holder on board. I placed the butt end of the rod on my thighs near my crotch and prepared for what I knew would be a strenuous experience for my body. Within minutes, biceps were burning, hands felt feeble, fingers weak.

Something funny happens when you attempt to land a big fish. You wonder: why the hell did I sign up for this? Am I crazy?

I remembered my experience near Cape Sable and what Betty had taught us the day before about catching big fish.

The fish ran. I let it run. The fish stopped, I reeled in as hard as I could. My rod was constantly bent.

About 15 minutes into the fight, Betty asked me if I was OK. I had started inhaling and exhaling deeply -- my yoga practice in service here, to focus and be present in the moment, to get past the pain in my muscles. Think of it like a Lamaze exercise for a kind of labor that isn’t about giving birth.

Then Captain Chuck chimed in. “You can let it go if you need to.”

I didn’t miss a beat.

“Captain Chuck, I still have energy left in me. I’m not going to give up.”

“Atta girl! That’s what I want to hear!” he said joyfully. His face lit up. “You’re doing such a great job!”

That did it for me. No yelling here. And no way in hell was I going to give up. I was in the zone.

About another 15 minutes passed. Eventually, we spotted a 6-foot long fish on the surface. Captain Chuck grabbed the leader and and let the line snap.  

“That was a 200 pound bull shark,” he said as he patted me on the back. “I am so proud of you, Maria.  Really. Very, very proud of you.”

My body felt a huge sense of relief. My spirit soared. It was almost surreal. Had I really done this?

Captain Chuck is the kind of old salt who will tell it to you like it is. There's no fussy, girly nonsense on his boat. He’ll be honest when something isn’t right so you can get it right.

It’s not that I was fishing for approval from a fatherly figure. It just happened. I made it happen. I manifested this insane desire to practice the sport. And although I had received instruction and encouragement from mentors, when it came down to battle, I did it all with my own hands.

I really did it.

I caught and released my first big shark.

“This was the big one that didn’t get away!” I exclaimed. “Whew!”

Photo courtesy of via Lindsay Terry.  Click here to read the full article.

As we headed back to Chokoloskee, the islands took on a mystical quality behind my polarized sunglasses, which intensify shades of green and blue. Maybe it was the lactic acid in my muscles or maybe it was my mind trying to fathom what I had just accomplished.

 And then I reminisced about Sir Fish A Lot, finding ourselves astray in the Faka Union Canal and how he had been an inspiration for me, showing dogged resolve to get us through a rough patch.

Fishing is never just about the fish. It’s a test of the faith and strength in yourself.

Although I really, truly should practice tying my knots.


Visit Ladies, Let's Go Fishing to learn more about their education programs, which are open to all women -- novice and experienced alike.  It's not just about fishing skills; participants also enjoy great camaraderie. To inquire about fishing or camping excursions with Captain Chuck, please utilize the contact form on the website, which also features a curated list fishing guides in the Southwest area of Florida.  More photos from the weekend seminar on Flickr.

As always, I encourage anglers to be educated and practice catch and release. Know your regulations and only keep what you're going to eat within a day or two.  Learn more about fishing rules at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

National Geographic has a good spread on bull sharks.

Learn how to dehook a fish.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dogs Are a Woman’s Best Friend

The Kampong ficus tree sculpture
The ficus at the Kampong. 

Yesterday, I drove through one of my favorite areas of Coral Gables, delivering leftovers from a delicious saffron-infused seafood paella I had made over the weekend. First stop, my parents -- for whom I’m still caregiving -- and second stop, my sister's home.

I always take this detour to admire an amazing banyan tree. There are glorious banyans all over this tropical and lush section of Coral Gables, but this one in particular is like the Taj Majal of banyans – competing locally for that title only with other extraordinary Ficus benghalensis growing locally at Pinecrest Gardens, Pine Tree Park in Miami Beach, The Kampong in Coconut Grove and the Edison Estate on the gulf coast.

While driving, I saw a dog in the middle of the road, a rather dangerous place to be, as cars coming around the corner can’t see oncoming traffic right away. Drivers should steer cautiously here.

I’ve driven through this bend hundreds of times, but I had never seen this dog.

The scruffy, silver-haired dog was small, looking a bit worse for wear. I noticed a collar and I followed it to a dead end street, thinking it might be lost and that I would help return it to its rightful owner.

Or I rather like to think she led me to the dead end street.

As I got out of the car, she plopped down next to a bowl of water and some dog biscuits. And then the furry creature barked viciously at me.  “Uh-oh,” I thought. "Here’s an alpha dog protecting her property."

“Ok, sweetheart,” I said out loud. “I was just trying to see if you were ok.”

Within seconds, a wizened woman came out of the house. With whiskers on her chin and grey hair wrapped up in a ponytail, she reminded me of fairy tales, where I might meet an old crone in a forest of mossed-draped oaks, acorns, saw grass palms and magical banyans.

But despite her age, she was also in remarkable shape.  She had clearly been an athlete and a bombshell, to boot.

We chatted for about half an hour. A few minutes into conversation, the dog sniffed around my feet and licked my toes.  And the previously aggressive canine seemed to tell me, “Ok, you’re cool, you’re allowed here.” Then the four-legged guardian pawed a little area in the dirt and took a nap.

Was it new friends meeting or old friends meeting anew?

I would hear an incredible tale from this woman about how she used to live in Hawaii, not far from where my brother currently resides. What are the odds? She told me about how she won competitions in surfing and outrigger canoeing, the former a sport my brother practices. She was even a stuntwoman in film.  We discussed Kaneohe, the North Shore, the current economic state of Honolulu, shaved ice and Kahuku shrimp, double rainbows and mai tais.  We were both transported, she perhaps to another time, when it was all about marriage and kids.  Me, just an amazing vacation I had been blessed with when visiting my brother and sister-in-law.

I felt the aloha spirit, right here in Miami, where you least expect it -- a random moment in an afternoon filled with kindness, compassion, harmony, the breath of life -- all because of a dog and a tree.

I saw that aloha spirit in this widowed grandmother, in that wrinkled, toothless face.  I saw it in some of the most beautiful, lively blue eyes I have ever seen, beaming vitality.  I saw myself in her.  “Will I be like this when I’m in my eighties, forty years from now?” I asked silently.

It was challenging to let go of the conversation, but I had to leave. I asked her name even though I wasn’t sure if I would ever see her again. I knew I had made a new friend, all because of a scruffy dog who seemed to be wandering around aimlessly, but like a barking oracle, clearly had a purpose.

Maybe I was lost and it was guiding me.

Perhaps the trees really are magical in this enchanted forest.

And now this banyan means even more to me.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Living in Love Even When You're Single

Tropical Eagles
I drew this on the deck of a Windjammer sailboat in the Caribbean, oh so many years ago.

After a considerably long time in a state of celibacy, I met a great guy – very unexpectedly.

He literally walked into my life. I was perusing some artwork in a gallery I wasn’t even supposed to visit that evening. A friend brought me there on the way to a party. There I was, living in my own protective bubble – what I now call the “la la land of singlehood” -- and he just started talking to me like he had known me forever. It was as simple as that. So yes, ladies, love does happen when you least expect it.

At first, I panicked a little, because within ten minutes of our happy banter, he was twirling me around in a hilarious attempt to dance a tango, right there, on the spot, beautifully spontaneous. And the next day, we would dance more, looking into each other’s eyes, smiling brightly and shining in our souls, all of which led to an amazing first electric kiss.

I decided then and there to just let go of my fears and insecurities. No more protective bubble, no more la la land. I said yes to the universe. I took the risk. It was scary as hell. And wonderful as all that.

We would then continue this dance in the heart, body and soul space for three months. And like a true tango, there were moments of sheer elation as well as the inevitable tension of awkward push and pull. Although it seems that the man leads, he actually follows the woman, yet she must also be receptive to a lead that is generously given. And when the tango is perfectly balanced, ying and yang entwined, both hearts and bodies come to a space of mutual understanding and intimacy in the hectic and distracting pace of life.

We had that miracle … for a spell.

But sometimes, the dance takes a pause. The ballroom suddenly becomes resoundingly empty. Footsteps on the wooden floor become silent. Glasses no longer clink. Dance shoes come off, in exhaustion. The lights darken. Joy fades into memory.

Pain, past and ego gets in the way of love. It shouldn’t, love should conquer all, but there you have it. A very hard lesson for me to learn: a man and a woman can love each other and yet not be right for each other.

I'm grateful for what he taught me. I know I’m ready to love immensely. Not just in a tantric way for a sexual lover, but extending my passion to all aspects of my life, including charity. How can my heart be so full and expanded, even when it is hurt? Because love does that to you – it makes you grow in ways you never thought you could, even when he may not be the right guy for you.

Love isn’t just what he gives you, but the compassion, forgiveness and thoughtfulness that grows inside you. By avoiding love, I could never overcome what was holding me back from love. The ground was never fertile. And with him, I blossomed into the woman that was hiding behind a shield, the woman I always wanted to be, one capable of extraordinary love.

Love was always there, but I wasn’t open to it until I met him. It’s something bigger than me, but part of me.

This was the wonderful gift he gave me, for which I am very grateful.

Love is boundless, but sometimes you have to set boundaries. I’m human, after all, and I have to honor what is right for me in my particular circumstances. But damn it, I did give it a good go and I’m OK with that.

Being vulnerable to receiving and giving love is a huge risk, but one well worth it when you surrender to the idea that it’s your birthright.

No more celibacy for me. I’m ready for the one who is right for me.

So to all my single ladies out there, I say this to you: give yourself the gift of love, even if it means things might not work out the way you expected. We’re not all fated to have just one dance partner in life. So dance away that tango, even through the awkward push and pull. Give it a chance.

Don’t give up. And I don’t ever want to hear there are no men capable of loving, because the first one who has to be capable is you and you won’t know unless you try.

Live in a state of grace and love already, even before you meet the guy. If love is what you want, get out of la la land.

And when you do meet him, muster up that courage.

PS … I’m doing HeartCamp again next year. Save the date for February 2, 2013. I’m looking forward to Heart’s Desire being part of the event next year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sex and the Beach Wins Best Art/Culture Blog!

Thanks to friends for sharing this special moment with me!

Wow, I am so very humbled and grateful. Thanks to everyone who voted for Sex and the Beach in the New Times South Florida Web Awards and extra love to New Times for nominating the blog!  Also, congratulations to the nominees and winners in other categories.

There are other many fine art/culture blogs in our community as well. Find them over on the blog roll at South Florida Daily Blog.

I just loved what New Times had to say about Sex and the Beach:
"Not to be confused with the ill-fated expo by a similar name (the blog came first), this off-the-cuff look at Miami living covers lots more than its namesake topic. From adventures at sea and Hialeah history, Maria de los Angeles has been repping the 305  for seven years and counting through in-depth observations and spot-on humor. (Fun fact: in true alter ego style, Maria also lives on as Twitter's own @ViceQueenMaria.)"
After seven years of blogging, now I'm inspired even more to keep at it!

See the slideshow from the party and read the recap at Cultist in Miami New Times.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Yo Soy Hialeah: Bargain Shopping

Part three of several stories about Hialeah.

bargain shopping miami hialeah
"Lizette" knows a good bargain when she sees one.

The third installment of Yo Soy Hialeah focuses on two iconic stores, Ño Que Barato! and Ño Que Caché.

Hialeah Bargain Shopping wasn’t easy to film, mainly because Miami native comedian Freddy Stebbins had us in stitches as we improvised. Stebbins, who is really from “Miami-uh” — that old-time southern city before the influx of Cubans — grew up during the influx, in a transitional cross-cultural setting, deeply appreciating Hispanic culture while living in a traditional gringo household. It’s this dichotomy that inspires his humor today and his love for Hialeah, a place where he used to go shopping as a kid.

"El Gringo" thinks he's ready for a night out in South Beach.


Click here if the embedded video doesn't appear.


Sex and the Beach interviewed Serafín Blanco, the owner and founder of Ño Que Barato and Ño Que Caché, over the phone.

Blanco left Cuba in the late 60s as a teen, landing in Spain before settling in Miami and reuniting with his parents in 1970. He left high school early to become a self-made entrepreneur, working in the then thriving Hialeah textile industry.

He married, made a family and worked hard, but things in the fabric world would eventually change. Pressure from manufacturing in China, South and Central America forced him to use surplus fabric to make his own clothes — batas de casa (housewife robes), tshirts, tank tops and so on. In 1992, he opened his first store Clothing Machine, which was right next to Dollar Machine. Eventually, this would become El Dollarazo, which the Blanco family still owns today.

Clothing Machine obviously didn’t have a catchy name.

Blanco opened Ño Que Barato in 1996, but at first it was just called Que Barato, which translates literally as "how inexpensive." Cuban comedian Alvarez Guedes, and the fact that many Cubans use the word coño pretty much in every sentence, inspired Blanco to add the loaded two-letter abbreviation ño next to the words Que Barato on the storefront wall, where he happened to have enough space for the now famous syllable.

The word coño isn’t easy to translate. It can mean many things I can’t publish here, including words starting with SH and FU. Just as in English we use those SH and FU words in myriad ways, so do Cubans use the C word in many positive and negative connotations.

In this case, it’s an emphasis word, meaning “[insert expletive here], that’s cheap!” If I had my way, I’d translate it thusly: “What a f*cking bargain!”

Today, the Ño stores are a landmark in Hialeah, still family owned and family run. Blanco’s daughter had the idea for Baby Caché, which opened in 2002 and is part of Ño Que Caché. This discount store offers a great variety of baby items for canastilla, the trousseau of sorts for newborns, as well as plentiful clothing options for men, women and children. Caché Fiestas next door hosts an entertainment facility for kid parties.

The story of Serafín Blanco is yet another great chapter in entrepreneurship from Hialeah. “We’ve had our ups and downs,” Blanco said. “But we keep moving forward.”

Hialeah Bargain Shopping was created in collaboration with Oscar Piloto. To reach Freddy, find him on Facebook.  We filmed Freddy as he was getting ready and warming up for his "Lizette" character. Click here for some hilarious out takes.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Big One That Got Away

everglades national park fishing florida bay
Heaven for any Florida back country angler.  Frank Key near Flamingo.

Last month, I made a pilgrimage back to Everglades National Park where I first got hooked on fishing.  It had been a over a decade since I experienced the pristine and uncluttered environment of Florida Bay west of the Florida Keys, where I used to pore over navigation charts while Sir Fish A Lot steered our flats boat. I recognized the keys, channels and mazes of mangroves immediately, as if they were long lost friends.  I breathed a sigh of relief. I was home.

I met my guide, Captain Ted Wilson, just before dawn at Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada.  I knew I was in good hands as he has been fishing and exploring the same body of water for 19 years and guiding professionally for 17.  He knows this vast expanse of skinny waters intimately.  And it's no ordinary body of water -- cradled by the Atlantic to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west, Florida Bay is a unique ecosystem, with fresh water flowing in from the north.

After about twenty minutes cruising west, we stopped close to a mangrove with good current to cast net some bait.  And then I was reminded why I love fishing the area so much; it's not just about the fish, but also about witnessing nature first-hand, away from the high-energy distractions of urban Miami.

Man-o-war birds, cormorants and pelicans were gathered around their nests, waking up to the sun's gentle morning light.

Cast Netting for Live Bait florida bay captain ted wilson
Cast netting for pilchards in Florida Bay early in the morning.

florida keys birds nesting rookery mangrove
Scattered throughout Florida Bay and the park, these mangroves support much wildlife.

As we approached the Flamingo area of the park, we also passed by Frank Key where we tried to net more bait -- my guide actually gave me a mini-lesson in handling a boat! -- but the water was too shallow. We did spook some large sting rays that we could see clearly over the thick grass beds.

In 2005, Hurricane Wilma denuded the west side of the key and wiped out nesting areas for Roseate Spoonbills, so boat traffic and fishing is prohibited around the periphery of the key from November to April.

Near Flamingo, we looked for diving sea terns -- a sign that ladyfish might also be feeding -- so we deployed light tackle. Captain Wilson and I had fun casting for ladyfish although we did manage to pull up a few slimy, grunting catfish.  He told me about another client from Louisiana who would dehook them with his own hands, even though their spiny dorsal fins can prick skin, resulting in painful injury.

With a rod in my hand, all was aligned in the universe -- that moment when you know you're doing exactly what you love and your heart is in it completely.  That's what fishing does for me; it forces me to be in the present. I was beginning to connect with my tackle. I was beginning to bond with nature.  I was warming up unconsciously for what I never imagined would be in store for me this day.

After Captain Wilson was satisfied with amount of bait in the live well, we headed further west to East Cape Sable, which is closer to the Gulf of Mexico.  Here we saw dozens of majestic loggerhead turtles with sandy Cape Sable beach as a stunning backdrop.

Location Coordinates in Florida Bay
Even though we were out in the middle of nowhere, I managed to get my iPhone  to work.

We saw some tarpon rolling, so Captain Wilson quickly prepared the tackle. Using 30# conventional gear, we hooked a live ladyfish across the nose on a 7/0 Owner hook and then drifted it back behind a float with 10 feet of 100-pound monofilament for leader.  Within minutes, the much anticipated screech of the line told me I had hooked a tarpon.

Captain Wilson reminded me to "bow to the king," leaving some slack in the line when the fish jumped.  I'll admit I was a little nervous, although my guide was an excellent teacher. But with an estimated 80 pound tarpon at the end of my line, the heart started racing!  The silver king is a formidable fish and alas, after about five minutes, it spit the hook out on a jump.

We kept trying for tarpon but sharks were eating up the ladyfish bait and cutting the monofilament leader, so Captain Wilson put out an additional rod with steel leader and an ounce of lead with half a ladyfish on the bottom.

I had told Captain Wilson that I had always wanted to catch a big one and boy, I should be careful what I wish for.  I hooked two fish, the first was most likely a Black Tip or Bull Shark that managed to shear through the metal leader within minutes.

And then arrived my come to Jesus moment.

Another screech on the line, a rod in my hand and what felt like a Mac truck speeding away from the boat. What the hell was I thinking? Could I physically handle this challenge?  How would I muster up the strength? It didn't take long for my right bicep and left forearm muscles to start burning. I'm no tiny girl, but whatever was on the end of that line was decidedly bigger than me and that's over 200 pounds.

At one point, Captain Wilson put a rod holder belt on me and I remembered what Betty Bauman of Ladies, Let's Go Fishing taught me about reeling in big fish -- squat, tuck your tailbone in and don't muscle it.  But I was really struggling and doubting myself at this point. Captain Wilson coached me again and reminded me to not work the reel so hard. I let the fish run and then reeled in the line, but it was never easy. I had connected with a creature to be respected, monstrous in size.

Half an hour into this fight, when I had the fish so close to the boat, when my stamina was all but gone, it simply spit the hook and let go. We never saw it.

Not photographing my fish is the best conservation policy.  But here's what a sawfish looks like; the species has long rostrum.  Photo by p medved via Flickr.

Exhausted yet exhilarated, I wasn't sure what to feel.  It was frustrating, to be sure, but it was also a fair fight between woman and beautiful beast.  And even if I never spotted the amazing creature, I had done something I didn't know I was capable of doing, something I had never done before.  I may have "lost" the fish, but I "found" me.

What was on the end of that line? Captain Wilson made an educated guess. Based on the fish's behavior it was most likely a colossal sawfish of about 400 pounds.  We were targeting shark but sawfish do roam these waters.  Sawfish are a protected species and I was relieved that the fish let go without a hook.

Captain Wilson asked me if I wanted to try again but I was beat and wanted to switch to light tackle, so we headed over to Snake Bight, where the tide was low.  Roseate spoonbills were feeding in the shallow water.  A common mirage effect on the flats makes the birds look like towering giants from a distance.  Without much wind, the dead silence of the Everglades magnifies the high-pitched squeal of an osprey or the honk of a heron.  These are sounds I love.

We poled to the mangroves and cast for snook, using 7-foot spinning outfits loaded with 15# braided line, 3 feet of 30-pound flourocarbon for leader and 2/0 Owner hooks with live pilchards.  We caught and released several juvenile snook, which was a good indication that snook populations were bouncing back after the winter freeze two years ago that killed so many fish.

Captain Ted Wilson Poling the Boat in Snake Bight at Everglades National Park
Poling in the shallow waters of Snake Bight.

Captain Ted Wilson with a Juvenile Snook in Everglades National Park
It's good to see snook populations on the rise.  All fish were released safely using a dehooker.

On the way back to the marina, I reflected on how I had just spent half a day in one of my most favorite places in the world, the Everglades, my heart soothed by this contact with nature.  Even though fishing happens on the water, it's a very grounding experience. I was immensely grateful for the physical battle that taught me spiritually to trust my own strength and determination. The fish is a great and humbling teacher.

Flats Fishing Buff Fashion
Fishing fashion isn't particularly sexy but it's good to get back to port with minimal sun and wind damage to the skin.


Fishing is in Captain Ted Wilson's blood -- he has been doing it since he was a kid. He grew up in Florida and moved to the Florida Keys after graduating from the University of Florida.  This fishing guide lives in Islamorada with his wife and five-year old daughter. The little one is already learning to be a great angler and participates in kids' tournaments.  In fact, a week after my own trip, she won Championship Angler in her age group for the Keys Kids Fishing Derby.

Find Captain Ted Wilson online for additional information about fishing and nature tours.


Learn more about Sawfish protection and tagging studies at Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. If you do catch and release one, report it for scientific research.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Once a Bridesmaid ... Always a Blogger

royal wedding miami
Move over William and Kate, here comes Babushka's wedding!

My sidekick Bohemian Babushka up and made this crazy decision to get married next year.  This gorgeous and funny-as-hell Cubanasa grandma is hitting the altar for the third time with a gringo!  It's his first wedding, so ya tu sabes. When she asked me to be her Maid of Honor, I was moved but also piqued by the irony of the singleton helping to arrange a marriage ceremony and reception.

So what's a girl to do? Well, of course, the FIRST step was to set up a Pinterest board, which has been an experiment in a more visual style of blogging. This is no ordinary collection of images; I try to write pithy and quirky captions to capture the spirit of our blogging personalities.  And Pinterest isn't all Martha Stewart Rachel Ray wannabees ... there are even boards about condoms! (Practice safe sex, ladies!)

Pinterest is "owned" by a largely female audience. It is a wonder women across the world aren't menstruating at the same time because we spend so much time on the addictive social network!

Can a maid of honor say vagina? This one might.

Babushka originally wanted to get married in Legoland -- yes, she's marvelously crazy that way -- but now we're focused on Miami where most of the familia resides. And with me at the helm and Babushka taking the vow with her Sweetie, you know this aint gonna be no ordinary blah and boring shindig, like Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding -- that was a serious yawner -- this social media Conga line is going to shake up the 305!

I've never been a Maid of Honor dishonor before! Even in family weddings, I was always an observer on the sidelines. It's a refreshing change of pace to be invested in a friend's happiness instead.

Follow the shenanigans of las dos locas on Facebook, Pinterest and on Twitter with the hashtag #babuboda.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Celebrity Salami Breaks Bread with Dan Marino

Cheese Pizza at Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza
Antonio Bandeja was thrilled to his cured core with the cheese pizza.

On Thursday, I was invited to the "friends and family preview" of a new Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza in Coral Gables.  My sidekick, celebrity salami Antonio Bandeja, came along, as he was very eager to enjoy a bite of the cauliflower pizza.

As it turns out, some handsome, blue-eyed, tall, deep-voiced guy named Dan Marino, who is apparently a rather famous football athlete -- played with the Miami Dolphins, who knew? -- broke bread with us and Anthony Bruno, founder of the chain.

I confessed to Dan Marino that I didn't know much about football.  An ex-boyfriend of mine was a big fan of the Buffalo Bills, but all that taught me was an appreciation for chicken wings -- which fed me through graduate school, one stick of butter and bottle of hot sauce at a time, baby.

Well, this Dan Marino guy was quite nice and eager to share an incredible spread of salad, meatballs, pizza, succulent ribs and his namesake Eggplant Marino with Antonio and I.  Anthony Bruno was in the da house also, and we truly felt like la famiglia.

It took some convincing, but celebrity salami did warm up to Dan Marino.    You know, being stuck between two hunky, gorgeous Italian men before a big meal ... wait a minute, is this 50 Shades of Marinara?

The Eggplant Marino is baked not fried. {Insert bad sophomoric joke here.} 

I'm really glad there's a new Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza in Coral Gables for two very important reasons.  One, I just moved nearby, and I absolutely adore their salad. I have said it before and I'll say it again, something so simple is impossible for me to replicate at home and I want to just bathe in the salad dressing -- the perfect tango of olive oil and vinegar.

Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza Salad
Who said Italian food is all bad carbs?

Reason number two: they have a Meatballs and Martinis night, which is what every single woman should put on her agenda. Don't tell me you can't find balls in Miami!

More importantly, Antonio was pleased. But he got a little stuck up and didn't even give Dan Marino an autograph.  Bad salami! Who does he think he is, Kim Kardashian?

This dish is like 50 Shades of Italian Ribs.  "Lascivious" is putting it Catholic-nun modestly. Expect finger-lickin' buono!

Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza in Coral Gables opened today to the public. I'm not kidding about the salad. And the ribs are seriously to die for, redolent of rosemary and smothered in red and green hot Italian men ... oops, I mean peppers.  Go some time and you might find Antonio Bandeja enjoying a bite or two of the vegetarian dishes -- he doesn't like to eat his pepperoni cousins.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yo Soy Hialeah: An Honest Hustle

Part two of several stories about Hialeah.

Carlos Miller interviewing a Hialeah street vendor.

The second installment of Yo Soy Hialeah focuses on the city's street vendors. Carlos Miller and I spent a day seeking out the hard working peddlers in some of Hialeah's busiest intersections.  Filming wasn't easy.  We had to dash in between cars and trucks as they pounded the pavement.

None of the men we interviewed spoke English. We have a few explanatory subtitles in the video but you can read about their lives below.


Click here if the embedded video doesn't appear.


Marcos Estopiñan (a.k.a. "El Manicero," or peanut vendor), is a former trapeze artist from Cuba who worked with Ringling Brothers Circus in the U.S. until an injury halted his career.  He's still quite the performer though, peddling peanuts in a hairy intersection while entertaining commuters with his upbeat personality and singing.

Marcos lives in Little Havana with his wife and commutes to Hialeah on a motorcycle. His daughter is studious and is looking forward to college, although he makes only $50 a day at his job.  Marcos works without an official street vendor's license.

Alberto from Nicaragua sells bottled water and churros (fried-dough pastry covered with sugar) at another busy intersection.  He was fined $350 for not having a license; it took him seven days to recoup that fine. He told us that street peddling isn't easy, because many people who drive by can be nasty, although some are nice.  "It's risky dealing with so many cars," he said.

Despite a meager income, he still manages to help out his family in Central America.  Alberto has been living in the U.S. for five years and became a street vendor because he couldn't find any other kind of employment.

Gilberto immigrated from Cuba in 1994. The former bus driver worked as a welder in the U.S. until a motorcycle accident left him in a coma for eight days and an injured hand. Since the accident took place on the road, he was ineligible for workmen's compensation and other work-related benefits.

Like El Manicero, Gilberto has a positive outlook and banters with potential customers even if they don't purchase any of his wares, which on the day of the shoot were solar-powered dashboard clocks. 

Gilberto had a protégé of sorts -- 18 year-old Johnny who claimed he was from Argentina, although he had no accent. Johnny told us he likes to work hard and make an honest living instead of a dishonest one. "I like to be decent with folks. I try to sell these little things to eat," he added. "Because if not I won't have food." On the day of the shoot, he told us he was saving money to get his $90 street vendor's permit and that he really wanted to go to college.

Documenting the lives of these men was a very challenging; we had to improvise and get these strangers to open up to us.

It was also humbling.

Their determination and fortitude made me gain a new appreciation for hard working immigrants who just want to make an honest living.  This is just as much part of the real America for me, beyond the hallowed halls of white collar kingdoms.

My father, a Cuban immigrant, thankfully found work here as an architect -- he revalidated his license to practice in the U.S. -- but I remember hearing stories about Cubans who were successful professionals in Cuba, forced to step down to eke a living during the initial exodus.  Some would stand on street corners under flight paths to clean windshields.

While researching the topic of Florida's street vendors, I came across a Virginia-based organization that filed a lawsuit against the city of Hialeah.

"In October 2011, the newly created Institute for Justice Florida Chapter filed a lawsuit in state court on behalf of street vendors.  These vendors are challenging a law passed by the city of Hialeah, Fla. (located near Miami), that not only makes vendors’ work more dangerous by forcing them to constantly be on the move rather than vend in one location, but also is purposefully anticompetitive—making it impossible for vendors to compete against politically powerful brick-and-mortar businesses."

Read more at the Institute for Justice.

So next time you see those silly looking plastic flower clocks on a dashboard -- they do seem to be ubiquitous in Miami -- think about these hard working men.

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's Never Just About the Fish

bull shark
Photo by Pterantula via Flickr.

I am still trying to wrap my mind around what happened yesterday. Sure, I hooked, fought and released a bull shark estimated at 200 pounds, but there was a revelation when subjecting my body to this, my body pressed into service of this endeavor, maintaining the mental focus and willpower to see it through.

This was woman-against-beast -- or perhaps more appropriately -- reeling the beast-within to a perfect moment of surrender where two forces of nature bow to their own strengths and weaknesses. Through that thin, braided line, I connected with the fish as it taught me something about a part of myself I don't normally tap into. It was an awkward dance, to be sure -- my biceps burned, my spine lit up, my thighs tightened -- all to reel up this formidable animal.

Somehow, I managed. I feel grateful for this battle and I thank the shark, because it had to fight my courage and my body, which is nothing frail or tiny.

For me, fishing is a metaphor of life, of not giving up and of eternal patience, of communicating with this sheer, literal force that pushes me out of my comfort zones.

Sure, I had a big fish at the end of my line yesterday. But what I really caught was my strength within.

This fishing adventure took place in the 10,000 Islands off of Chokoloskee, Florida.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Silicone Bitch: Happy Blog Birthday, SxSe, 30-Day Blog Challenge and More!

Summer was rather slow for Silicone Bitch but the fall season is picking up to a nice pace.

Sex and the Beach celebrated its 5th anniversary in 2010. Where else but on Miami Beach? This month, the blog is seven years old. Maybe we'll throw another party at the decade mark. Photo by Liam Crotty.


But before we get into the latest news, behold the beautiful graphic to the right. Miami New Times must love me long time, because they nominated Sex and the Beach plus my Twitter account for Web Awards!  You may recall that Silicone Bitch is an offshoot of the Silicon Beach column I used to pen for Riptide.  Well, I heart Miami New Times, too!

If you heart me and the exhilarating content I have been providing for donkey's ages, perhaps you'll kindly vote for me under the Miami, Art/Culture and Twitter (@vicequeenmaria) categories.

Thanks for the nominations, Miami New Times! I couldn't have asked for a better birthday gift, since Sex and the Beach celebrated its seventh anniversary on October 5th. (Funny, I forgot about it.)


SxSe attendees none the worse for wear during Sunday's late breakfast in Key Largo.

A group of social media friends got together at the end of September for the 5th annual SxSe, South Florida's oldest continuing tweetup tradition and unconference. This year, the group consisted mostly of social media professionals, many of whom discussed the finer points of Google + and other topics while sipping cool cocktails under the palm trees.  South by Southeast just so happened to take place at the tail end of Social Media Week; however, the two events were unrelated.

Prior to the weekend, yours truly, @alexdc and @lisadsparks presented lectures on blogging for business, mobile marketing and email marketing, respectively.  The event?  The Florida Keys Digital Media Conference -- a first of its kind social media educational event in Monroe County.

Florida Keys individuals and businesses connected with Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and even Tampa peeps over the subject of social media. Kudos to Shirley Wilson (@keys2bsocial) for organizing a great conference.

But back to the party, which coincidentally happened to piggy back on the conference. SxSe headquarters was the elegant but laid-back Key Largo Hilton, where lazing in the crystal-clear water beach was the order of the day, even if we did talk shop.  The tweetup took place at The Pilot House Glass Bottom Bar, where we enjoyed Pirate's Booty, an award-winning rum cocktail by owner Don Brown.


Another great social event is coming up this week: the second annual SeaTweetup social media conference and gathering aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines. Sea Tweetup is sold out, so you can't sail on this particular love boat, but stop by the EPIC hotel on Thursday for a Bon Voyage party at Area 31.


A bunch of South Floridians heard the call by @alexdc of Social Media Club South Florida to get disciplined about blogging.  When it comes to blogging, consistency is key. You gotta do it and stick to it, just like any fitness routine. Below is the list of participating bloggers, some of whom are businesses.  Yours truly isn't part of the challenge, but I'll be cheering everyone on from the sidelines.

Follow the blogging shenanigans on Twitter as well with the hashtag #SMCSFBlogOff.

(We hope Rick from South Florida Daily Blog will forgive us for this long reading list!)


Left to right: Joe Martinez, Hanae Kimura and Cynthia Seymour discuss Google + at Social Media Club South Florida in a panel moderated by Liza Walton.

Social Media Club South Florida is in full swing. We met earlier this month to discuss Google + and have a November meetup scheduled the second Tuesday of the month about Wordpress. Yours truly is on the board now but as always, I encourage you to join us for free, educational networking meetups. Follow Social Media Club South Florida on Facebook.

Refresh Miami, a web and tech meetup community, has also started gearing up for a great season.  Learn more at Refresh Miami.

Did you know the "Fantastic Four of Miami" has a tech startup that's all about social shopping?   Read more at Startropica.